Black History Month: Salute to WDIA’s Bev Johnson

Bev Johnson through the years (Source: WMC Action News 5)
Bev Johnson through the years (Source: WMC Action News 5)(WMC Action News 5)
Updated: Feb. 1, 2019 at 8:14 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - We’re celebrating Black History Month by saluting modern day trail blazers like WDIA’s Bev Johnson.

She’s considered the queen of Memphis radio and soon she’ll be immortalized as the first African American woman in the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame.

The “Bev Johnson Show” has been a weekday mainstay of WDIA for more than 32 years, taking your calls about politics, celebrity gossip and just about anything else.

“I’m like their girlfriend, the girl next door, so I think they trust me,” said Johnson. “I love these listeners.”

In the mid-1970s as a graduate student in media technology at Jackson State University, Bev filled in sometimes on the university’s jazz station, WJSU. One day she answered a call from the then-program director of WJMI who offered her a job.

“And I said, ‘oh no, no, no, I’m not gonna be just a disc jockey, MR. Haynes, I’m going to be a television reporter’,” said Johnson.

She had her sights set on TV, but her grandmother persuaded her to give radio a chance.

“My grandmother says, ‘baby, when someone gives you an opportunity, a good opportunity, take it. Go back and call that man’,” said Johnson.

That was 43 years ago.

So what’s it been like for an African American woman in this business?

“Ugh, the early years it was hard,” said Johnson. “You know, we were kinda like pushed, we were there but... men ruled. But now, it’s a different world, you know? So we know that we have the power, but in the beginning, I’ll tell the truth, for African American women in black radio, we were behind the scenes a lot.”

Bev paid her dues and eventually landed a prime slot at AM powerhouse WDIA.

She also teaches English, writing and speech at Southwest Community College and is a substance abuse counselor and proud recipient of numerous professional and community service awards -- proof that her impact reaches far beyond the control booth.

“My show is to inspire people, not only to inspire but to educate, talk and have fun,” said Johnson. “But I just want to touch somebody.”

Bev says she plans to keep doing what she’s doing for years to come.

“I’m not ready to retire, so I’m gonna go on as long as I can,” said Johnson.

As she reflects on being the first African American woman inducted into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame, she thinks back to the woman who encouraged her to walk through that door.

“My grandmother used to tell me, ‘Kym, I’m throwing my bread on the water’,” said Johnson. ""But I got it, I got it now, and I thought about my grandmother. She made me take a job that I didn’t want to take."

Bev also said her grandmother stressed the importance of two things: Do the right thing and treat people right, hence Bev’s motto, “As you treat yourself, you treat others.”

Her induction to the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame is Aug. 3 in Mufreesboro.

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